The September Issue
Anna Wintour has taken some heavy fire over the years, not least the scathing attack presented by her former assistant Lauren Weisberger in Devil Wears Prada but also from those who question her very relevance and that of the magazine she represents.
The September Issue, covers the lead up and behind the scenes production that goes into the same coveted volume, presented as fashion’s absolute guide for the coming year, through the eyes of its senior most staff. Granted significant access, the director seeks to address the magazine’s place within the echelons of modern society, cataloguing the creativity and passion that goes into such a momentous project.
With such an interesting premise, it’s nothing less than disappointing when the piece collapses in upon itself.
Spending a great deal of time establishing the respect and power that Wintour wields in her role, the director R.J Cutler does nothing to illustrate how it is that she came to acquire such standing, all that anyone can agree upon is that she spearheaded the inclusion of celebrities as models, preempting the market that scorned the move yet later becoming dependent on it for sales. Never answering if it was she herself who led to such a celebrity driven fashion industry or if it was a minor feat of clairvoyance, this is one of many diminishing images of the polarizing figure. We learn it was her father who drove her to want the position she now holds, a position her siblings view with a great deal of bafflement; even her own daughter refuses to ever view fashion as being a career, merely a diversion that could never fulfill.
Andre Leoni merely gives credence to such dismissive opinions, wearing one comical outfit after another, never visibly carrying out any work other than maintaining a personal image that he spends some time describing as essential to him.
On the other side of the equation is Grace Coddington, a woman who by her own admission is extremely passionate about her work having started off as a model and later working her way up the ladder within the critical wing of the industry. We see her create fairy tales, three dimensional worlds that these designer outfits inhibit if only for a short time. Coddington states her begrudging respect for Anna and yet, spends most of the film describing how her images exclusion from the end product would be done so without any explanation and the cost of doing so would be equally as incredulous, something neither the editor in chief nor the director seem willing to address. She is running blind, her creativity ignored and criticized on whims.
Cutler struggles throughout the entire 90 minute running time to pin anything down, Anna is both God and charlatan in this world, with little or no warmth or intelligence shown. We are told that she refuses to deal with anyone she finds unimportant to her business, a business we can’t even be sure she knows unless we are to believe that Wintour has a vision she is unwilling to share with anyone else. The written content is also, of little obvious value to her, never being addressed once throughout. Likewise, the crew cannot decide whether they are observers or active participants, the film swapping from documentary to set piece with every minute; a scene in which they are actively incorporated into the magazine serves to highlight how little respect they hold for mere observing.
It is an irony with extreme poignance that in the end, that same book (and subsequent film) based on her less savoury aspects seem to show more depth and insight into Anna Wintour, than the documentary tailor made to inject some humanity into this iconic figure. In parts it is amusing, but never does it fulfill its brief.